Numbers 32 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Numbers 32
Pulpit Commentary
Now the children of Reuben and the children of Gad had a very great multitude of cattle: and when they saw the land of Jazer, and the land of Gilead, that, behold, the place was a place for cattle;
Verse 1. - The children of Reuben and the children of Gad. Reuben and Gad had both been camped on the same (southern) side of the tabernacle, but had not apparently been neighbours, since Simeon intervened on the march (see on Numbers 2:10-14). Simeon, however, was at this time enfeebled and disgraced, and was not likely to assert himself in any way. The "great multitude of cattle" belonging to the two tribes probably point to pastoral habits of long standing, since the cattle of the Amorites and Midianites would be equally divided among all. The land of Jazer. Jazer, or Jaazer, probably stood near the northern source of the Wady Hesban, which enters the Jordan not far from its mouth. The "land of Jazer" would seem to mean the Mishor, or plateau, of Heshbon, over which the Israelites had passed on their way to the plains of Moab (see on Deuteronomy 3:10, "all the cities of the Mishor"). The land of Gilead. Gilead as the name of a district only previously occurs in Genesis 37:25. It is used with a considerable latitude of meaning in this and the following books. In its widest sense it stands for the whole territory to the east of Jordan (see on verses 26, 29), including even the rugged, volcanic districts of Bashan (Deuteronomy 34:1; 1 Chronicles 5:16); but more properly it denoted the lands on both sides the Jabbok, from the Wady Hesban on the south, to the Yermuk and lake of Tiberias on the north, now known as the provinces of Belka and Jebel Ajlun. These lands are by no means uniformly flat, as the name "Mount Gilead" testifies, but include mountains and hills covered with fine open forests of oak (cf. 2 Samuel 18:8, 9) as well as rolling downs and treeless plains. The soil is almost everywhere of great fertility, and the water supply, although very scanty in summer, is sufficient if carefully husbanded. Even now these provinces produce great store of grain, and are depastured by vast flocks of sheep. In Roman times, as the innumerable ruins testify, they were filled with a large and opulent population. Indeed there could be no comparison in point of agricultural and pastoral value between these open and fertile lands and the broken, stony country of Southern Palestine. If they ever enjoy again the blessing of a strong government and continuous peace they will again justify the choice of Reuben and Gad. A place for cattle. מָקום (Septuagint, τόπος) is used here in the broader sense of district (cf. Genesis 1:9), and is equivalent to אֶרֶצ in verse 4.
The children of Gad and the children of Reuben came and spake unto Moses, and to Eleazar the priest, and unto the princes of the congregation, saying,
Ataroth, and Dibon, and Jazer, and Nimrah, and Heshbon, and Elealeh, and Shebam, and Nebo, and Beon,
Verse 3. - Ataroth. As to the nine places here mentioned, see on verses 34-38. They all lie to the south of Gilead, properly so called, within a comparatively short distance of the route by which the main body of the Israelites had advanced. Probably the cattle which followed the host were still grazing under guard around these places, and it was very natural that tribes which had hitherto lived closely crowded together should not at first contemplate spreading themselves very far afield.
Even the country which the LORD smote before the congregation of Israel, is a land for cattle, and thy servants have cattle:
Wherefore, said they, if we have found grace in thy sight, let this land be given unto thy servants for a possession, and bring us not over Jordan.
Verse 5. - Bring us not over Jordan. The two tribes have been charged on the strength of these words with "shameless selfishness," but there is nothing to justify such an accusation. If they thought at all of the effect of their request upon their brethren, it is quite likely that they intended to do them a kindness by leaving them more room on the other side Jordan; and indeed Canaan proper was all too strait for such a population. Whether they were wise in wishing to stay in the wider and more attractive lands which they had seen is another matter. They knew that the God of Israel had designed to plant his people between Jordan and the sea, and they certainly risked a partial severance from his promises and his protection by remaining where they did. The subsequent history of the trans-Jordanic tribes is a melancholy commentary on the real unwisdom of their choice. Yet it would have been difficult for them to know that they were wrong, except by an instinct of faith which no Israelites perhaps at that time possessed.
And Moses said unto the children of Gad and to the children of Reuben, Shall your brethren go to war, and shall ye sit here?
Verse 6. - Shall your brethren go to war, and shall ye sit here. Moses had good cause to feel great anxiety about the entry into Canaan proper. Once already the faith and courage of the people had failed them on the very threshold of the promised land, and a slight discouragement might bring about a similar calamity. Hence he spoke with a degree of sharpness which does not appear to have been deserved.
And wherefore discourage ye the heart of the children of Israel from going over into the land which the LORD hath given them?
Verse 7. - Discourage. The verb נוא, translated "discourage" here and in verse 9, is of somewhat doubtful meaning. The Septuagint renders it by διαστρέφω, and perhaps the sense is, "Why do ye draw away the heart?" i.e., render it averse from going over.
Thus did your fathers, when I sent them from Kadeshbarnea to see the land.
Verse 8. - Thus did your fathers. It is impossible not to see that this mode of address is in striking contrast to that used in the Book cf. Deuteronomy (e.g., in Numbers 1:22, 27; Numbers 5:3, 23). At the same time it is obviously the more natural, and the more in accordance with facts, because there was not a man left of all those who had rebelled at Kadesh. At Kadesh-Barnea. This mode of writing the name forms a link between the closing chapters of Numbers (here and in Numbers 34:4) and the two following books. In Deuteronomy it occurs four times, and "Kadesh" twice. In Joshua "Kadesh-Barnea" occurs exclusively. In the later books "Kadesh" only is used, as in Genesis and in the previous chapters of Numbers. The meaning of the combination is uncertain, and the etymology of "Barnea" altogether obscure. It may be an old name attaching to the place before it became known as a sanctuary. The Septuagint has Κάδης τοῦ Βαρνή in one place, as though it were the name of a man.
For when they went up unto the valley of Eshcol, and saw the land, they discouraged the heart of the children of Israel, that they should not go into the land which the LORD had given them.
Verse 9. - When they went up, i.e., no doubt the spies, although the word is not expressed. Moses, indeed, in the heat of his displeasure, seemed to charge their "fathers" generally with the wickedness of ten men. No further proof is needed to show that Moses was often disposed to speak unadvisedly with his lips.
And the LORD'S anger was kindled the same time, and he sware, saying,
Surely none of the men that came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob; because they have not wholly followed me:
Verse 11. - That came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward. Here is another instance of the haste and inaccuracy with which Moses spoke. The Divine sentence of exclusion had been pronounced upon all who were numbered at Sinai as being then over twenty (Numbers 14:29).
Save Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenezite, and Joshua the son of Nun: for they have wholly followed the LORD.
Verse 12. - The Kenezite. See on Numbers 13:6.
And the LORD'S anger was kindled against Israel, and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation, that had done evil in the sight of the LORD, was consumed.
And, behold, ye are risen up in your fathers' stead, an increase of sinful men, to augment yet the fierce anger of the LORD toward Israel.
Verse 14. - An increase of sinful men. תַּרְבּוּת is rendered by the Septuagint συντριμμα, which properly means a contusion or fracture; but it is probably equivalent to "brood," used in a contemptuous sense. The strong language of Moses was not justified by the reality, although it was excused by the appearance, of the case.
For if ye turn away from after him, he will yet again leave them in the wilderness; and ye shall destroy all this people.
Verse 15. - He will yet again leave them in the wilderness. Properly speaking, Israel had already emerged from the wilderness; but until they had fairly made good their possession of Canaan, their desert wanderings could not be considered at an end.
And they came near unto him, and said, We will build sheepfolds here for our cattle, and cities for our little ones:
Verse 16. - Sheep-folds. גִּדְרֹת צֹאן. These were rude enclosures built of loose stones piled on one another, into which the flocks were driven at night for safety.
But we ourselves will go ready armed before the children of Israel, until we have brought them unto their place: and our little ones shall dwell in the fenced cities because of the inhabitants of the land.
Verse 17. - We ourselves will go ready armed. Rather, "we will equip ourselves in haste." נֵחָלַצ חֻשִׁים. They meant that they would not delay the forward movement of Israel, but would hasten to erect the necessary buildings, and to array themselves for war.
We will not return unto our houses, until the children of Israel have inherited every man his inheritance.
For we will not inherit with them on yonder side Jordan, or forward; because our inheritance is fallen to us on this side Jordan eastward.
Verse 19. - On yonder side Jordan. מֵעֵבֶר לַיַּרְדֵּן. Septuagint, ἀπὸ τοῦ πέραν τοῦ Ἰορδάνου. This phrase is here used in what is apparently its more natural sense, as it would be used by one dwelling in the plains of Moab (see on Numbers 22:1, and on next verse). Or forward. וָהָלְאָה. Septuagint, καὶ ἐπέκεινα, i.e., onwards towards the west and south and north, as the tide of conquest might flow. Our inheritance is fallen to us on this side Jordan eastward. It does not appear on what ground they spoke so confidently. They do not seem to have received any Divine intimation that their lot was to be on the east of Jordan, but rather to have been guided by their own preference. If so, they cannot be acquitted of a certain presumptuous willfulness in action, and of a certain want of honesty in speech. The phrase here rendered "on this side Jordan" (מֵעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּז) cannot be distinguished grammatically from that which bears an opposite signification in the preceding verse. In itself it is perfectly ambiguous without some qualifying word or phrase, and it is very difficult to know what the ordinary use of it was in the time of Moses. In later ages, no doubt, it came to mean simply the trans-Jordanic territory, or Peraea, without reference to the position of the speaker. The difficulty here is to decide whether the expression, as further defined by "eastward," would actually have been used at that time and in that place, or whether the expression is due to a writer living on the west of Jordan. All we can say is, that the awkward use of the phrase in two opposite meanings, with words of clearer definition added, points more or less strongly towards a probability that the passage as it stands was written or revised at a later date.
And Moses said unto them, If ye will do this thing, if ye will go armed before the LORD to war,
Verse 20. - Before the Lord. Perhaps in a quasi-local sense, as the vanguard of the host before the sacred symbols of the Lord's presence (see on chapter Numbers 10:21, and Joshua 6:9). But since the same expression (לִפְנֵי יְהוָה) is twice used in a much vaguer sense in verse 22, it is more probable that it only means "in the Lord's service, or "beneath his eye."
And will go all of you armed over Jordan before the LORD, until he hath driven out his enemies from before him,
And the land be subdued before the LORD: then afterward ye shall return, and be guiltless before the LORD, and before Israel; and this land shall be your possession before the LORD.
But if ye will not do so, behold, ye have sinned against the LORD: and be sure your sin will find you out.
Verse 23. - Be sure your sin will find you out. Or rather, "ye will know your sin" (וּדְעוּ חַטַּאתְכֶם) "which shall find you out" (for מָצָא cf. Genesis 44:16). So in effect the Septuagint: γνώσεσθε τὴν ἁμαρτίαν ὑῶν, ὅταν ὑμᾶς καταλάβῃ τὰ κακά. When they had cause to rue their folly, then they would recognize their sin.
Build you cities for your little ones, and folds for your sheep; and do that which hath proceeded out of your mouth.
And the children of Gad and the children of Reuben spake unto Moses, saying, Thy servants will do as my lord commandeth.
Our little ones, our wives, our flocks, and all our cattle, shall be there in the cities of Gilead:
Verse 26. - In the cities of Gilead. The name is used here in a vague sense for all the central and southern trans-Jordanic districts.
But thy servants will pass over, every man armed for war, before the LORD to battle, as my lord saith.
So concerning them Moses commanded Eleazar the priest, and Joshua the son of Nun, and the chief fathers of the tribes of the children of Israel:
Verse 28. - Moses commanded. See on chapter Numbers 34:17, 18; Joshua 1:13 ff.; Joshua 22:1 ff.
And Moses said unto them, If the children of Gad and the children of Reuben will pass with you over Jordan, every man armed to battle, before the LORD, and the land shall be subdued before you; then ye shall give them the land of Gilead for a possession:
But if they will not pass over with you armed, they shall have possessions among you in the land of Canaan.
And the children of Gad and the children of Reuben answered, saying, As the LORD hath said unto thy servants, so will we do.
We will pass over armed before the LORD into the land of Canaan, that the possession of our inheritance on this side Jordan may be ours.
And Moses gave unto them, even to the children of Gad, and to the children of Reuben, and unto half the tribe of Manasseh the son of Joseph, the kingdom of Sihon king of the Amorites, and the kingdom of Og king of Bashan, the land, with the cities thereof in the coasts, even the cities of the country round about.
Verse 33. - And unto half the tribe of Manasseh. As no mention has been previously made of this tribe in this connection, we are left to conjecture why it should, contrary to all analogy, have been divided at all, and why the one half should have received the remote regions of Northern Gilead and Bashan. That the tribe was divided at all can only be explained by the pre-existence of some schism in its ranks, the probable origin and nature of which are discussed in the notes on verses 39, 41. The enormous increase in the tribal numbers during the wanderings (see on chapter Numbers 26:34) may have made the division more advisable, and the adventurous and independent character of the Machirites may have rendered it almost a necessity. They had not apparently preferred any request to Moses, but since the trans-Jordanic territory was to be occupied, Moses probably prevented a grave difficulty by recognizing their claim to the conquests they had made.
And the children of Gad built Dibon, and Ataroth, and Aroer,
Verse 34. - The children of Gad built, i.e., no doubt, they put these places in some habitable and defensible state of repair until they should return. Dibon. Now Dhiban, four miles north of Arnon. It is called Dibon-gad in chapter Numbers 33:45, 46, but it is doubtful whether there is any allusion to its present occupation, since "Gad" was a common affix in the languages of Canaan (cf. Joshua 11:17). Dibon was subsequently assigned to Reuben (Joshua 13:9), but was recovered by Moab, and became one of his strongholds (of Isaiah 15:2; Jeremiah 48:18, 22) The Moabite stone was found here. Ataroth. Now Attarus, seven miles from Dibon. Aroer. Not the Aroer before Rabbath (Joshua 13:25), but the Aroer by the brink of Arnon (Deuteronomy 2:36; Joshua 13:16).
And Atroth, Shophan, and Jaazer, and Jogbehah,
Verse 35. - Atroth, Shophan. Rather, "Atroth-Shophan," another Ataroth, the site of which is unknown. Jaazer. See on verse 1. Jogbehah. Now perhaps Jebeiha, to the north of Jaazer (cf. Judges 8:11). All these places were only temporarily occupied by the Gadites, and fell to Reuben in the subsequent division.
And Bethnimrah, and Bethharan, fenced cities: and folds for sheep.
Verse 36. - Beth-nimrah and Beth-haran. Supposed to be the present Nimrun and Beit-haran in the plains of Moab, beside the Jordan, and in the immediate neighbourhood of the Israelitish camp. The latter would seem to have fallen subsequently to Reuben. Fenced cities, and folds for sheep. There should be no stop between these two clauses. All these places were "built" for the double purpose of affording protection to the families and to the flocks of the tribe.
And the children of Reuben built Heshbon, and Elealeh, and Kirjathaim,
Verse 37. - The children of Reuben. Reuben had, at the time of the last census, been greater in number than Gad, and had been his leader on the march. He now begins to take that secondary position which was always to be his. Of the towns which he now occupied, the Moabites recovered many, while the most important of all (Heshbon) had to be surrendered to the Levites. He was indeed compensated with the southern settlements of the Gadites as far as the Wady Hesban, but even so his limits were very straitened as compared with those of Gad and of half Manasseh. Heshbon. Cf. chapter Numbers 21:25. In Joshua 21:39; 1 Chronicles 6:81, Heshbon is spoken of as belonging to Gad. This can only be explained on the supposition that the temporary settlements of the two tribes were really intermixed, and that Heshbon, as the old capital of that region, was jointly occupied. In after times it, too, together with Elealeh and Kirjathaim, Nebo, Baal-meon, and Sibmah, all fell into the hands of Moab (Isaiah 15:2, 4; Isaiah 16:8; Jeremiah 48:22, 23).
And Nebo, and Baalmeon, (their names being changed,) and Shibmah: and gave other names unto the cities which they builded.
Verse 38. - Baalomeon. Called Been in verse 3, Beth-meon in Jeremiah 48:23, Beth-Baal-meon in Joshua 13:17. Their names being changed. מוּסַבֹּת שֵׁם, "with change of name," dependent on the verb "built." The Septuagint has περικεκυκλωμένας (Symmachus, περιτετευχισμένας), apparently reading שׁוּר for שֵׁם, but without authority. It is possible that the Been of verse 3 may be an instance of this attempt to change names, many of which were connected with idolatry. The attempt failed, but both the attempt itself and its failure were very characteristic of the partial and feeble hold which Israel had on this territory. Gave other names to the cities which they builded. Literally, "they called by names the names of the towns;" a round-about expression correctly paraphrased by the A.V.
And the children of Machir the son of Manasseh went to Gilead, and took it, and dispossessed the Amorite which was in it.
Verse 39. - The children of Machir. The relation of the Beni-Machir to the tribe of Manasseh is obscure, because all the Manassites were descended from Machir. In the absence of any direct information, we can only guess at the nature of the tie which united the Beni-Machir as a family, and kept them distinct from the other Manassite families. It is evident from their history that they formed a sub-tribe powerful enough to have a name of their own in Israel (cf. verse 40 and Judges 5:14, and see note on verse 41). Went to Gilead. This would seem to refer to the expedition briefly recorded in chapter Numbers 21:33. It is mentioned here out of place, in the simple historical style of the Pentateuch, because the gift of Gilead to Machir grew out of its conquest by Machir. The name Gilead is again used in a very vague sense, for the territory actually allotted to Machir was rather in Bashan than in Gilead proper.
And Moses gave Gilead unto Machir the son of Manasseh; and he dwelt therein.
Verse 40. - And he dwelt therein. This expression does not necessarily look beyond the lifetime of Moses, although it would be more naturally taken as doing so. In chapter Numbers 20:1 יֵֶּשב is used of the "abiding" of Israel at Kadesh.
And Jair the son of Manasseh went and took the small towns thereof, and called them Havothjair.
Verse 41. - Jair the son of Manasseh. This hero of Manasseh is mentioned here for the first time; in Deuteronomy 3:14 his conquests are somewhat more fully described. His genealogy, which is instructive and suggestive, is given here.

It will be seen that Segub, the father of Jair, was a Machirite in the female line only. His father Hezron, according to 1 Chronicles 2:21, married the daughter of Manasseh in his old age, when his elder sons were probably already fathers of families. It may probably be conjectured also that Manasseh, who must have inherited exceptional wealth (cf. Genesis 48:17), and had but one grandson, left a large portion to his grand-daughter, the young wife of Hezron. It was therefore very natural that Segub should have attached himself to the fortunes of his mother's tribe. Is it not also very probable that Machir had other daughters (cf. Genesis 1:23), who also inherited large portions from their grandfather, and whose husbands were willing enough to enter into a family which had apparently brighter prospects than any others? If so, it would account at once for the existence of a large family of Machirites not descended from Gilead, and not on the most friendly terms with the rest of the tribe. It is quite possible that many of the more adventurous spirits amongst the tribe of Judah joined themselves to a family whose reputation and exploits they might naturally claim as their own (see on Joshua 19:34). The small towns thereof, or, "their villages." Septuagint, τὰς ἐπαύλεις αὐτῶν, i.e. the hamlets of the Amorites who dwelt in Argob (Deuteronomy 3:14), the modern district of el Lejja, on the north-western waters of the Yermuk or Hieromax. And called them Havoth-jair. חָוּתֹ יָאִיר. Septuagint, τὰς ἐπαύλεις Ἰαίρ, and so the Targums. The word chavvoth only occurs in this connection, and is supposed by some to be the plural of חַוָּה, "life." There does not, however, seem to be anything except the very doubtful analogy of certain German names in favour of the rendering "Jair's lives." It is more likely the corruption of some more ancient name. There is some discrepancy in subsequent references to the Chavvoth-jair. According to 1 Chronicles 2:22, Jair had twenty-three towns in Gilead; from Judges 10:4 it appears that the sons of the later Jair had thirty cities "in the land of Gilead" which went under the name of Chavvoth-jair; while in Joshua 13:30 "all the Chavvoth-jair which are in Bashan" are reckoned at sixty. The plausible, though not wholly satisfactory, explanation is, that the conquests of Nobah came to be subsequently included in those of his more famous contemporary, and the vague name of Chavvoth-jair extended to all the towns in that part of Gilead, and of Bashan too (see notes on the passages cited).
And Nobah went and took Kenath, and the villages thereof, and called it Nobah, after his own name.
Verse 42. - Nobah. As this chieftain is nowhere else named, we may probably conclude that he was one of the companions of Jair, holding a position more or less subordinate to him. Kenath. The modern Kenawat, on the western slope of the Jebel Hauran, the most easterly point ever occupied by the Israelites. It is apparently the Nobah mentioned in Judges 8:11, but it has reverted (like so many others) to its old name. In spite of the uncertainties which hang over the conquest of this north-eastern territory, there is something very characteristic in the part played by the Machirite leaders. That they acted with an independent vigour bordering on audacity, that they showed great personal prowess, and had great personal authority with the humbler members of their family, and held something like the position of feudal superiors among them, is evident from the way in which they are spoken cf. And this is quite in keeping with the character of the Manassites in after times. The "governors" who came at the call of Barak, Gideon, the greatest of the warrior-judges, and probably Jephthah also ("the Gileadite"), as well as the younger Jail maintained the warlike and impetuous character of their race. If "Elijah the Tishbite" was really from this region (although this is extremely doubtful), we should find in him the characteristic daring and self-reliance of Machir transmuted into their spiritual equivalents.

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